In criticizing the White House for interfering with Republican races this year, McAuliffe has always insisted that he would never step into a Democratic primary, whether it be House, Senate or otherwise, and dictate who could run and who could not. Let the best man or woman win, the party is stronger for it, he has told audiences asking him why he has not attempted to give stronger candidates an easier time leading into the general election.
McAuliffe has laughed at the messes created by White House meddling in electoral politics: California, Tennessee, New Hampshire. But now that Democrats sense they might actually have a shot at taking back the House of Representatives, McAuliffe and the DNC are breaking their own rules — albeit acting a lot more subtly than Karl Rove’s shop, it would appear.
Last week, very quietly, Oklahoma House hopeful Ben Odom withdrew from the Democratic runoff Thursday, giving his opponent, former state senator Darryl Roberts, a clear shot at taking back the 4th congressional district currently held by retiring Rep. J.C. Watts. Given that Watts is only the second Republican to ever hold the seat, it’s a safe bet that Roberts, who finished ahead of Odom in the August 27 primary, now has a clearer shot at winning in November than he did a week ago.
Republicans have nominated former Oklahoma Secretary of State and Republican National Committee Chief of Staff Tom Cole as their candidate.
Polls have been mixed, with Cole having an edge given his up-front selection as Watts’s replacement (here, the White House plan to select one candidate to avoid nasty primary fights seems to have worked).
But Odom’s sacrifice gives Democrats perhaps their best chance of taking back what before Watts’s retirement was considered a very safe Republican seat.
“Roberts will have more cash on hand to run against Cole than he would have had,” says a DNC fundraiser, who says that Odom’s stepping aside was due in part to national party hints that he’d be given a role in the party down the road. “Nothing specific, but the message was clear that his stepping aside would be a great help to the party. If we take back the House, Odom is a hero.”
Odom, for his part, seemed to realize the stakes were high. “Staying in the race would make me a de facto instrument to the Republican Party, which I refuse to do,” he said.
Both Roberts and Odom had made fairly serious media buys leading into the run-off, enough that either man would have had to hold fairly major fundraisers immediately after the party victory to re-load for the November race. Now Roberts has pulled those radio and TV spots.
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